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Pandemonium Circus

Steve Dawson

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Album Review

Former Saxon bassist Steve Dawson chose this album's title as a metaphor for his view of rock & roll, which seemed apropos after the band elbowed him out in 1986 — although the sound is actually a more controlled exercise in shoot-you-down, bang-'em-up hard rock. Dawson spent three years making these demos with assorted musicians, but legal maneuvers kept them tucked away until now. Dawson's coconspirators included guitarists Haydn Conway and Steve Johnson — the last person to work with Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott — and ex-Saxon drummer Nigel Durham. The album is a tripartite affair, opening with a three-song demo intended to help EMI decide if it wanted Dawson as a solo artist. "She" is the pick here, with Johnson supplying some burning guitar over a rather stiff drum machine. The core team returned for another six tracks, which the label declined to take up. Standouts include "We're Givin' It Up" — a brassy, bone-rattling hard rocker the members of Whitesnake would have given their eyeteeth to write — and "Step Inside Love," an unlikely Lennon-McCartney cover done by Cilla Black. Inevitably, the lack of progress convinced Johnson to leave: "'2' Late"'s thunderous AOR balladeering might have given Dawson the launch pad he needed as a solo artist, if only someone had released it. (Conway supplies the suitably blistering leads.) Pandemonium Circus rounds off matters with live tracks from the only two gigs that Dawson's merry men played while searching for that ever-elusive record deal. There's a rousing version of Saxon's "Motorcycle Man" and martial rifferama aplenty on "We're Givin' It Up" and "You 's' Eye." "Step Inside Love," however, loses something in its translation to a barebones trio format. This collection has an inevitably dated air about it, brimming with the long-discredited trademarks of the '80s metal era: trilling, mile-a-minute guitar leads, helium-lunged vocals (which sound better coming from Dawson than Adrian Davidson), and those plangent keyboards abubbling under the guitars. As Dawson admits in his own booklet notes, "More Foolin'" exemplifies the slickness he consciously strove to avoid, but the best tracks should give Saxon fans an idea of what he brought to his former band (and his current Oliver/Dawson Saxon project). Angel Air has done its usual classy packaging job — so dig in if this style's your bag.

Pandemonium Circus, Steve Dawson
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